By Terrence McNally
Directed by Fred Anzevino
Produced by Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre
At No Exit Cafe, Chicago
Mesmerizing character study and analysis of the nature of performance art fuels Master Class
In a departure from their stock and trade, Fred Anzevino and the creatives at Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre have opted to mount a drama with music – Master Class. Winner of the 1996 Tony Award for “Best Play,’ Master Class is a “star vehicle” that demands a first-class actress with articulate abilities that include garnering a rich Greek accent and the ability to pronounce Italian deftly. That person must be able to command the stage while reacting with ascorbic wit and self absorption. Fred Anzevino tapped 2-time Jeff Award actress Kelli Harrington (The Light in the Piazza and Aspects of Love) to play Maria Callas (1923-1977) -the ultimate opera diva of the late 20th Century.
After the first few minutes on stage, I became fixated with Ms Harrington’s commanding tour de force performance. Callas was know for her temperamental behavior, her flamboyant singing style, and for the essential ingredient for a great singer: an instantly recognizable voice. She considered herself “first and foremost ‘a musician,’ that is, the first instrument of the orchestra.” Harrington’s performance blended McNally’s script wonderfully as she, always reacting to the three students who she tore apart as the ‘merely sang’ – but-not felt the music and the lyrics as Callas demands. Harrington adds running monologues on the nature of art, about why she needed to perform, and her painful life where she always felt unloved. Harrington captures the caustically sharp insults, the sarcasm, and the facial reactions of the diva as the pain of incorrect singing and the joy of hearing the students land there arias. We witness Harrington channeling Callas live, on-stage.
With outstanding piano work by Jeremy Ramey and nice acting by the terrified students, Ashlee Hardgrave, Rachel Klippel, and Kevin R. Siembor -who also demonstrate their vocal chops, we see Callas as she both attacks, then admires each. But, Master Class is essentially Maria Callas’ biography as well as her thoughts about the essence of performing art. Kelli Harrington dominates the stage as the fickle diva whose mere presence strikes terror into her students. She delivers Callas biting comments, her vivid facial expressions, as well as her glowing love of the beauty in bell canto singing when her students do it correctly – with feeling and respect for the music. Harrington’s performance justifies seeing Master Class– she , indeed, gives her own ‘master class’ on acting.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: October 14, 2013
For more info checkout the Master Class page at theatreinchicago.com
At No Exict Cafe, 6970 N. Glenwood, Chicago, IL, call 800-595-4849, www.theo-u.com, tickets $25 – $29 (dinner extra), Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 7 pm, running time is 2 hours, 30 minutes with intermission, through November 24, 2013